Horse Breeding Terminology: Dam and Sire Meaning

The horse world does have a lot of unusual terminology, especially when it comes to breeding! Confused about dam and sire meaning? To put it simply, they are the parents of a horse – but read on to find out more!

Horse owners, trainers, and breeders use a lot of different names to describe the age and gender of a horse. The words dam and sire are used to identify the parents of a horse. They can even be put together to identify the grandparents as well!

Let’s take a look at the fascinating world of horse breeding and introduce the terminology used by breeders.

What is a Pedigree?

To understand more about horse breeding terminology, we need to know what a pedigree is. The easiest way to think of a pedigree is as a family tree – it traces a horse’s ancestry back for several generations.

Many of us have no idea what our horse’s pedigree is! We may have a passport that names the parents and even grandparents of our horse. However, if you are not active in the world of breeding these names may not mean much to you. Many horses do not have a pedigree at all, as their sire and dam are unknown.

Breeders use pedigrees to help them plan future breeding programs by observing which combination of mother and father produce the best foals. This information can be used to improve factors such as performance, athletic ability, or conformation.

What Is Sire and Dam?

Sire and dam are the two most common terms used when discussing a horse’s pedigree. Horse breeders, trainers, and owners have a keen interest in a horse’s pedigree, as this helps them to track bloodlines and improve the breeding stock.

  • The sire and the dam are the parents of an equine animal. Equine animals include horses, ponies, donkeys, mules, asses, and zebra.
  • The sire is the father of a horse. You may also hear the sire referred to as the stud or stallion. A horse is described as being ‘by’ a sire.
  • The dam is the mother of a horse. She may also be called a broodmare. A horse is described as being ‘out of the dam.
  • For example: “This foal was out of the dam Barbera, and was sired by Bertie.”

The Importance of Sire and Dam Meaning

The selection and pairing of the sire with the dam is an art form in itself, with horse breeders spending hours researching the pedigree of the potential sire or dam. This is because breeders want to breed the best possible foals, who will take on the desired traits of the sire and dam.

Using words such as sire and dam helps us to easily identify the parents of a horse. If a horse performs particularly well, a breeder can find out who the sire was and see if they would be a good match for their dam.

The Importance of Sire and Dam Meaning

In many purebred and competition horses, the sire and dam will be recorded in the horse’s official paperwork. Some breed societies also hold detailed records of the sires and dams of all registered horses – this is called a studbook.

But it doesn’t stop there! Breeders and horse enthusiasts are not just interested in the sire and dam, and these records can go back several generations. The Thoroughbred stud book goes right back to the late 1700s!

Other Dam and Sire Definitions

So if breeders are interested in several generations of pedigree, what other names are used to describe a horse’s ancestors? Now we understand dam and sire meaning, it is time to introduce a whole load of new words!

  • Damsire: Also known as a broodmare sire, this is the maternal grandfather of the foal – the mother’s father.
  • Progeny: The offspring of a horse.
  • Full Brother or Sister: Horses that share the same sire and dam.
  • Half Brother or Sister: Horses that share the same dam. Horses that share only the same sire are not considered to be related, as a stallion may sire hundreds of foals every year.
  • Second Dam: The dam’s mother, otherwise known as the maternal grandmother.
  • Third Dam: The great-grandmother on the female side of the pedigree.

Foundation Sires of the American Quarter Horse

Who Is Most Important – The Sire Or The Dam?

When it comes to breeding, most of the attention goes to the sire, but choosing the right dam is also very important! In terms of genetics, the foal will receive 50% of its genetic makeup from each parent. However, certain characteristics and traits will be passed down consistently from either the dam or the sire.

Breeders will look at potential sires and dams, and evaluate their conformation, temperament, performance records, and pedigree. They will also look at the same qualities in the progeny of the dam and sire, to see if these traits are carried through to the next generation.

Top-class stallions can sire hundreds and even thousands of foals every year, which means their high-quality genes quickly become well known. The dam will only produce one foal per year so she is normally less well known, but some dams have produced a string of top-class progeny.

Historically, the sire has been thought of as the most influential parent when it comes to performance. However, a recent study found that the maternal line also had an important role to play, and high-performing dams more consistently produced good quality foals compared to sires of the same athletic ability.

Who Is Most Important – The Sire Or The Dam

Whereas most foals will never meet their sire, the dam will normally spend up to a year with its offspring. This means that as well as passing on her genetic traits, she will also imprint her personality and behaviors on the foal.


So, as we’ve learned, the dam and sire meaning is the father and mother of a horse. In competitive sports such as horse racing, breeders keep detailed records about sires and dams to improve their breeding stock. The rest of us normally have no idea who our horse’s parents are, but it would be fun to find out!

We’d love to hear about your horse – do you know who their sire and dam are? Or maybe you have any questions about horse breeding terminology? Add a comment below this post and we’ll get back to you!

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